This post was written and edited by Nancy J. Smyth, Melanie Sage, and myself as part of our collaboration on our forthcoming book, Teaching Social Work with Digital Technology, to be published by CSWE Press in 2018.
Today’s academic work environments are fast-paced and rely on digital technologies to handle the flow of communication and information such as email, digital calendars, and electronic to-do lists. In this blog post, we asked social work educators and practitioners to share their best tips for using technology as a tool for productivity.
Managing email can be a difficult and time-consuming task. Andy Berkhout, the Data Quality Coordinator from the St. Patrick Center in St. Louis, MO shares his guidelines for managing email:
Clients and colleagues will notice if you are paying more attention to checking email on your phone than you are to them. Instead, set a dedicated time at the beginning or end of the workday to catch up on electronic communication. When it is time to pay attention to the person in front of you, do just that; put your phone away and give your complete focus. Your text messages and email will be still be there later, but the chance to connect with a client or provide meaningful input during a meeting might pass if you’re not giving the present moment your full attention (A. Berkhout, personal communication, September 6, 2017).
In my role as an associate professor and director of an undergraduate program, I only check emails twice a day and spend no more than 45 minutes doing so. This forces me to prioritize activities and responses quickly. I only “touch” things once. If I need to take care of something or respond, I do it immediately upon receiving the request. I also have files with names of my frequent contacts (such as co-workers, dean, chair) emails that are initiated by those individuals are easier to find. I also use folder titles for activities I am responsible for (advising, to be graded, coordinating, and committees). These folders allow me to clean up my inbox as I read through emails, I flag emails that are in progress or I need to follow up on and review the flags once a week (usually Monday or Friday). These flagged items stay in my inbox and I work to keep this number around 15-. I also have a rule, if I have to respond more than twice, I make a phone call immediately or schedule a face to face to follow up, this is usually indication that communication has broken down somewhere and needs to be resolved (S. Richardson, personal communication, September 20, 2017).
The blog post was written by myself and Melanie Sage of the University at Buffalo, and we describe our visit with the College of Social Work at the Ohio State University in August 2017, where we talked about how social work faculty can harness technology for their social work scholarship. We also interviewed two of our OSU colleagues, Drs. Bridget Freisthler and Holly Dabelko-Schoeny, about our presentation and how it supports their use of technology for scholarship. This is cross-posted at the Human Services Information Technology Association’s (HusITa) Blog: http://www.husita.org/harnessing-social-media-for-social-work-research-and-scholarship/.
Dissemination to the right stakeholders is a crucial part of social work research. However, as social work academics, we are often trained to think that publication in peer-reviewed journals is the pinnacle of sharing our research with our peers and the academy. But for our work to have substantial impact, we want it to reach service providers, communities, and consumers, too. Access to peer-reviewed journals can be challenging due to cost,availability, and complexity. Increasingly, academics and research scientists are turning to social media platforms as a way to disseminate and engage with others about their work.
One of the early studies looking at the value of social media in research dissemination was an article by Darling, Shiffman, Côté, and Drew (2013) titled The role of twitter in the life cycle of a scientific publication. Based on a survey of 116 marine biologists, they found that scientists who used Twitter for professional reasons could rapidly develop new research ideas and easily share works-in-progress for pre-reviews. Additionally, these researchers found they could communicate their findings not only with other academics, but also with broader audiences such as decision makers, journalists and the public in a way that could amplify the scientific and social impact of publications, and that sharing in this way increased their citations too. Here is an infographic of the article’s major findings.
So how does this translate to social work research? Melanie Sage and I present to multiple audiences, from peers to conference attendees, about the role of social media in social work scholarship. For years, we have been using social media and technology tools to connect with colleagues, share research, and collaborate. Based on our expertise in this area, we were invited to lead a discussion about the role of technology in social work scholarship at the Social Work’s Grand Challenge Initiative Conference (#GC4SW) held at the University of Southern California (April 25-28, 2017). In this discussion, we shared the ways in which social media can be a tool to help social work academics and practitioners to discover and share knowledge, as well as build relationships for collaborative work. Social media platforms are well-placed to allow social workers across the professional continuum to engage with each other, creating communities of learning and practice that bridge the gap between practice and research in social work. We suggested four practices with social media for advancing the Grand Challenges for Social Work; you can read about them here.
What about FERPA? This is one of the most common questions I hear when presenting about using social media in the classroom. FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, is the US federal law that protects the privacy of students’ educational record, and ensures that students have some control over their records. Examples of what is included in an educational record at the post-secondary level include grades, transcripts, class lists, student course schedules, and student financial information. Social work educators are often very aware of privacy and disclosure of personally identifiable information because of our practice backgrounds and the NASW Code of Ethics, so FERPA makes sense to us. It is understood that we should abide by FERPA and our professional standards of privacy and informed consent while modelling appropriate ethical standards for our students. However, this does not mean that social media is off-limits as an educational and professional development tool (Drake, 2014). Rather it means that as social work educators, we can use social media with students as long as we do so in ethical and legal ways (Rodriguez, 2011).
The purpose of this post is to provide some examples and best practices for FERPA-compliant social media assignments based on my understanding and experiences, and insights from colleagues. As with any ethical challenge, there are no black or white answers, but it is my hope that information in this post will provide insight on how social work educators can embrace the benefits of social media assignments while being mindful of the risks. And there are many benefits to using social media as social workers such as contributing to public conversations, building relationships with other practitioners, and staying current on news and research. Further, helping social work students develop the values and skills to professionally and ethically use social media is included in Council of Social Work Education’s 2015 Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards.
Here are ways I work to ensure that I am being ethical and professional with social media in the classroom:
Last week, Melanie Sage and I led a discussion at the Social Work’s Grand Challenge Initiative Conference (#GC4SW) held at the University of Southern California (April 25-28, 2017). We attended the last day of the conference, which focused on for Harnessing Technology for Social Good. If you are not familiar with this challenge, its focus includes leveraging digital and social technologies to enhance, improve, and expand the reach and influence of social services, evidence-based social work practices, and innovative programs. Two white papers outline how social work can use technology to help individuals, communities, and organizations:
The use of social media is omnipresent in our daily lives, and ahead of policy and ethics in social work. Technology policy standards typically do not address concerns of social workers, including communication with clients, and professional values of privacy and confidentiality, safety, and self-determination. As a profession, we have few research studies about the use of social media in practice and mixed professional guidance around how to best engage with social media as part of our work with clients, constituents, and communities. Some in social work take a risk-averse approach to social media, limiting how and who they interact with on virtual platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. However, this Grand Challenges supports broader thinking and creativity in how social workers can engage with social media, especially to address the 11 other grand challenges.
As part of our discussion, we proposed that social media can be a tool to help social work academics and practitioners to discover and share knowledge as well as build relationships for collaborative work. Social media platforms are well-placed to allow social workers across the professional continuum to engage with each other, creating communities of learning and practice that bridge the gap between practice and research in social work. We suggested four practices with social media for advancing the Grand Challenges for Social Work:
On April 13th, Melanie Sage, Nancy J. Smyth and I presented at the third annual Social Work Distance Education Conference sponsored by Our Lady of the Lake University’s Worden School of Social Service.
Our workshop informed participants about the mechanics as well as the advantages and disadvantages of professional learning networks (PLN), both as a scholar and in the classroom. A professional learning network (also known as a personalized learning network) includes technology-based tools and processes used by a social worker to stay up-to-date and share information about current news, practice knowledge, and the latest research findings. Participants learned how to establish and grow their own PLN, integrate PLNs into a classroom or curriculum, and appreciate how the theory of Connectivism (Siemens, 2005) informs the practice of PLNs.
You can access a copy of the slides here: https://www.slideshare.net/laurelhitchcock/professional-learning-networks-for-social-work.
A copy of the Professional Learning Network (PLN) Worksheet shared during the session is available here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByR_E-iQH7PdT2t1WV9YYnlZV00/view?usp=sharing